Caffeine bears watching


March 07, 1995|By Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe | Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe,Special to The Sun

Q: Every time my 16-year-old daughter drinks coffee or sodas, she get bladder spasms and runs to the bathroom constantly. Is there anything we should do about this?

A: When we first read your question, the answer seemed obvious: caffeine (found in coffee and some sodas) was the culprit for your daughter's symptoms. In fact, caffeine is specifically mentioned as a bladder irritant in the latest edition of "The New Our Bodies, Ourselves," (written by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective and published by Touchstone/Simon and Schuster). However, we were unable to locate more specific information, even after looking through multiple pharmacology, urology and gynecology textbooks. If caffeine does act as an irritant, we can't explain how it does so.

Caffeine does cause a number of chemical reactions in the body, including the release of physiologically active chemical mediators. One of these mediators (referred to as catecholamines) may be causing the sphincter that controls urine flow out of the bladder to contract while the caffeine in the bladder urine is irritating the bladder wall, thus giving your daughter a sensation of spasm.

One thing is clear: Caffeine does increase the body's urine production. Therefore, drinking a lot of coffee will cause individuals to urinate more frequently.

Your daughter may want to limit her caffeine intake (or switch to decaffeinated coffee and caffeine-free sodas) or stop using these products altogether. Although most people associate caffeine with cola drinks, some non-cola sodas also contain caffeine.

Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

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